The Florida House of Representatives may soon deliberate a bill to make abortion a felony in the state. HB 865, or the “Florida for Life Act,” would make it a first-degree felony to perform an abortion or operate an abortion clinic in the state. Violations could be punished by up to 30 years in prison.
The Miami Herald reports that the bill is the brainchild of State Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights). Van Zant is a Southern Baptist minister, which perhaps explains why his bill explicitly appeals to religion.“The Legislature finds that all human life comes from the Creator, has an inherent value that cannot be quantified by man, and begins at the earliest biological development of a fertilized human egg,” it reads. “The Legislature urges the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade…and Planned Parenthood of Southern Pennsylvania v. Casey.”
According to the Miami New Times, this is Van Zant’s favorite dead horse to beat. He has filed legislation to ban abortion in Florida every year since 2010. Though the Florida House is hardly a progressive bastion, it has traditionally been reluctant to consider such extreme legislation. Van Zant’s bills have never even been heard by a House committee.
That changed on Monday. State Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami), who chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, approved the bill for a committee hearing. That’s its first step to a full House vote.
Even if it passes out of committee and then a House vote and is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R), the measure is almost certainly unenforceable.
The U.S. Supreme Court currently leans conservative, and a few of its justices would probably like to overturn Roe. Even so, HB 865 is unlikely to survive a legal challenge. This week, the high court blocked North Dakota’s ban on abortions carried out after six weeks of pregnancy; it blocked a similar Arkansas bill last week. It’s clear that a majority of the court’s justices intend to uphold at least the letter of Roe, though they are not so reliable on the subject of abortion restrictions.
Then there’s the matter of the bill’s religious language. Abortion legislation is tricky territory for advocates of secular government. There’s no question that the Religious Right opposes abortion rights; as a group, anti-abortion activists almost universally cite their religious beliefs as justification for their positions on abortion. But that language doesn’t typically make it into bills intended to restrict or ban abortion rights, which means that it can be difficult to challenge them on First Amendment grounds.
This bill is an exception. It has no secular veneer whatsoever. Van Zant’s honesty is refreshing, but it has also probably doomed his bill. It’s ineffective political grandstanding from a would-be culture warrior.
The good minister is no stranger to extremism; he’s also railed against the Common Core curriculum because he thinks it will cause “children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” That’s fine fodder for a sermon (by some standards, anyway), but it doesn’t belong in the state legislature.
If Van Zant really wants to end abortion in the state, he should probably reconsider his tactics.